2018-05-23 Book Sales Don’t Happen on Their Own

Tonight Eunkoo Lee, Anna Tsoi and I got prepared for this Saturday’s Book Sale, moving a lot of books from our small study room to the large meeting room. Thankfully Anna and Eunkoo talked on Saturday at the Global Leadership Forum, Anna asked if there is anything she could help us with.

We hope the book sale will be successful on Saturday. Thanks first of all to Anne Marie for donating many books to get this started. @Cami next came through donating books, that made us feel more confident that we would have enough books to hold a book sale. TNKR volunteer and donor Dondi Lyons then donated books, that made sure that we had enough for a book sale.

Youngmin Kwon has made at least two trips to pick up books. As always, he is always ready to do what he can to help TNKR.

Thanks to Bruce EJ Lee for driving me back to the TNKR office the day I went to pick up books from Anne.

It took several people working together to make this happen, these events don’t happen on their own.


A few years ago, people would ask me if they could donate things to TNKR. At that time, we didn’t have an office, so it was like asking a man running down the street if he wanted a piano to push down the street as he ran numerous errands. We now have an office so we can accept donations, at least short-term.

The books will be priced from 1,000 to 5,000 won.

Noon-2 pm, refugees only.

2-4 pm, open to the public.

4-5 pm, all you can carry for 10,000 won.

5-5:15 pm: Quick, grab whatever you can for 5,000 won.

(BYOB) Bring your own box!

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2018-05-08 TNKR partnership with the Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation

On Tuesday May 8, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) and the Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will provide scholarships for fifteen North Korean refugees studying in TNKR beginning next month. The partnership is aimed at providing support for North Korean refugees college students who may be struggling with their university studies and financial issues.

According to one study, an estimated 28% of North Korean refugee college students drop out of college (six times higher than the overall 4.5% rate) in South Korea, with an estimated 33% of refugees citing English as the major factor and 29% citing financial difficulties. More than 360 North Korean refugees have studied English with almost 800 tutors and coaches in TNKR, a non-political, non-religious non-profit founded in 2013.

“We know that many of our students are struggling with studies at their universities, that’s why our approach of having refugees choose their own study paths in 1:1 tutoring sessions is both popular with and effective for refugees,” said Casey Lartigue Jr., co-founder of TNKR along with Eunkoo Lee. “I hope this will also be a wake-up call for people who want to focus on socializing and hanging out with North Korean refugees, and recognize this as a clear call-to-action that we need to do all we can help to help North Korean refugees with building up their academic skills.” 

Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation, a Christian foundation founded in 2001 by Lee Johng-ho, highlighted the importance of helping North Korean refugee students with their studies and supporting TNKR in its mission of helping North Korean refugees.

“Supporting North Korean students who have come to South Korea after experiencing many difficulties is in line with the purpose of our foundation,” said pastor Cho Byung-hun, chairman of Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation’s board of directors. “We want to invest helping to support North Korean refugees who are doing well in their studies and hope that our partnership with TNKR will help motivate them.”

The fifteen TNKR students who are awarded scholarships can have their scholarships renewed by demonstrating they have improved their grades. They can receive two different types of scholarships: 1) English Achievement Scholarship, receiving 250,000 won of support per semester. 2) Grade Achievement Scholarship, 400,000 won of support per semester. To be eligible, students should have studied in TNKR for at least three months or are joining TNKR now and are committed to studying in TNKR for at least three months.

Here is the Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation notice announcing this partnership with TNKR.


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2018-05 Three Day Weekend of Work

Monday May 7 is a holiday in South Korea. For most normal people, that meant many people went traveling over the weekend to take advantage of the three-day weekend. But for TNKR, a three-day weekend meant a weekend of work!

  • Speech by an NK refugee
  • 3 hour discussion with a group visiting from the USA.
  • Magazine interview with TNKR Special Ambassador Ken Eom.
  • Meeting forming an Event Planning Team.
  • Interview with a refugee joining TNKR.
  • Visit from an NK refugee.
  • NK refugee starting her first day in the TNKR office.
  • Tutoring session.
  • Visit from a model who loves TNKR.
  • Visit from a TNKR fan.
  •  Went to pick up four boxes of books from a TNKR fan.


Support TNKR

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2018-05-04 Interview, Tutoring

Friday was a slow day at TNKR, so we did a lot of planning. We did have one TV interview in the morning and one tutoring session in the afternoon.

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2018-05-03 Energy Center

Today’s big events and activities at TNKR:

  • PARTNERSHIP: The big news today is that TNKR finalized the details of a partnership that we will be announcing on Tuesday during an MOU signing ceremony. This will be absolutely fantastic for refugees studying in TNKR. We are thankful that a South Korean organization that is much larger than ours has found us and wanted to partner with us. Stay tuned! And separate of that, we had a second meeting about another possible partnership, but that one will take a bit more time.
  • MEDIA: Another day, another reporter at the TNKR office. This time, the reporter recorded TNKR senior fellow Tony Docan-Morgan having a coaching session with a North Korean refugee who will become internationally known. We have already seen her improve really quickly, it will be impossible to stop her once she has sharpened her English.
  • TUTORING: We had a tutoring session with one of our tutors who joined us last month but has had many tutoring sessions already. I love it that she and her student she tutored today make it a point to meet at our office. One day when TNKR is a large organization then we will be able to hold more study sessions.
  • PUBLIC SPEAKING: Scott gave another speech. We weren’t able to make it, but I’m sure he was great. He has an incredible story and I can see how much he has sharpened his public speaking in the last couple of months.
  • ACTIVISM: We couldn’t make it, but I heard that Hwang In-Cheol and Youngmin Kwon had a great meeting getting prepared for a press briefing at the Press Club in Seoul.
  • OUTREACH: TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee, and TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan will be speaking at the 2018 Korean Association for Multicultural Education International Conference on May 24 from 4:20 pm at Korea University.

Support TNKR’s building fund

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2018-05-02 TNKR Media

I continue to be amazed that TNKR gets so much media attention even though:

  • We don’t have a media team or even anyone handling media relations.
  • The American co-founder is a former reporter and communications specialist who is more likely to fight with rather than reach out to media.

Despite those limitations, here we are again, being interviewed by a TV reporter who will be doing a 3-minute segment about TNKR. In TV time, that is eternal life.

Check out the TNKR Media Archive here, and look at how much media coverage we have gotten through April 30.

Support TNKR

TNKR Special Ambassador TNKR Ken Eom was interviewed about North Korea and his experience in TNKR. He’s a new father so you can support his online baby shower here. And here is his fundraiser for TNKR, he called TNKR a LIttle Big Hero.


We had a tutoring session going on, so the reporter also observed that a little. The refugee is often on TV, but she is not the least bit interested being recorded speaking in English. Later, we expect that she will become an advocate for TNKR.


The reporter also interviewed me. The interview was going to focus on me, but I suggested we expand beyond me. TNKR won’t grow if every interview is about me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to explain TNKR to the media, but I also know that people get tired of seeing one person focused upon.


We wrapped up with a meeting with international students from the KAIST College of Business. They said some thoughtful things about ways that we can develop a business model.

Join TNKR’s Book Club.


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2018-04-28 Matching session 74: I wanna choose first!!!

The non-profit organization Teach North Korean Refugees held its 74th Language Matching session yesterday. We had 11 North Korean refugees and 18 tutors participate (1 tutor canceled and another was a no-show). The session started at 2 pm–the first refugee to register for the session arrived at our office at 9:50 a.m. That’s right, slightly more than 4 hours in advance!

Why was she so early? Simple! First-come, first-choose! The refugees get to choose their tutors based on when they arrive to the session. So the refugee who arrived first was able to choose first. She is a returning student with us who first joined us in 2015 at the ABC level.

The others were so disappointed, especially the ones arriving three hours early who found out they were already sixth and seventh in line.

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2018-04-26 TNKR around the world

TNKR Special Ambassador Ken Eom was a special interviewee today! Reporters have been calling us for interviews, but a lot of the refugees in TNKR who are usually ready to do interviews seemed to be busy this week (exam week) or not interested in discussing specifics about the summit. Ken answered the call today and had numerous media requests. So you can expect to see a few news reports in the next few days. He did three interviews today back-to-back-to-back before he had to rush off for a different appointment.
He’s a new father and also juggling grad school. Thanks to those of you who participated in his online baby shower. You can also send support for their baby adjustment time directly to Ken.
I also had a busy day–a speech in the morning at an international high school, an interview with an international reporter, and an in-studio interview with long-time radio host Henry Shinn.
And I’m proud to announce that TNKR will have its first student club!

I was out of the office most of today, here are the things that I know about:

More photos are below. Read more

Fundraising for TNKR

Thank you to the TNKR volunteers and fans who posted their fundraisers today!

Erin Sylvester, Help Empower North Korean Refugees with Erin

Jeffrey Villa, Help North Korean refugees learn English!

Janice Kim, Help NK Refugee Moms Learn English for Free!

Tony Docan-Morgan, I’ll Mail You Korean Stickers!

Simon Thyer, TNKR Moving Again

Marco John, North Korean Refugees Need Your Support 

Kayla Shea, Help North Korean refugees learn English

Vanessa and Larah, Lending Ears: Women Supporting TNKR

Dondi Lyons, 58.5, that’s a thing, right?

Eunkoo Lee, TNKR is my new life

Marie Boes, Get a handwritten postcard from Korea!

KC, Casey Lartigue’s Fundraiser for TNKR


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Voices from the North 2018-04-15: Why do North Korean defectors learn English? (2)

Voices from the North 2018-04-15: Why do North Korean defectors learn English? (2)

Q: Many North Korean refugees struggle to learn English. Many refugees who drop out of college cite English as a major reason. What was the moment you realized you needed to learn English to adjust to life in South Korea?

Suhyeong, female, arrived in South Korea in 2015

I studied basic English when I was in North Korea, but I feel like a baby at English here. What I learned wasn’t good enough and because there was so much propaganda, I didn’t learn anything useful outside of North Korea. I have been eager to study English here, but because I have three children, it hasn’t been easy, and my experience at a hakwon was not good.

I encountered Konglish shortly after I arrived in South Korea because I was lucky to get a job quickly. But I couldn’t understand so many things that my South Korean co-workers were saying. Sometimes a colleague would ask me to bring something, but I would bring the wrong thing, and they would laugh all day about it. It felt cruel because they would whisper about North Korea, but it did wake me up to the reality that I need English to survive here.

Sung, male, arrived in 2014

There are so many times that I have realized that I needed English. I had studied some English in North Korea, but it seems that I learned everything the wrong way and that my teachers weren’t good. It seems that my pronunciation is so bad, even people who can’t speak very well want to correct me.

When I took an English class at a hakwon in Seoul, I could see there was a big difference between me and native South Koreans, even the beginners were so far ahead of me. When I applied for university here, I needed help with my essay; it was clear that I could not write an essay in English on my own. There have been so many times that I could see that I needed English. I look forward to the day that I can have a deep conversation in English, and that the person can understand my pronunciation.

Jiyeon, female, arrived in 2017

The first moment I thought about trying to learn English was after I escaped to China. I saw many Hollywood movies when I was there; that kind of became my hobby. I became curious about the English in the videos, and it started to feel like English could be something fun.

The second moment I thought about learning English was when I was suffering from depression here in Seoul. I didn’t want to come to South Korea; I got tricked by a man who lied to me. I haven’t been enjoying my life here, I haven’t been active, and I haven’t been making friends. I don’t know what will happen, but for the first time I think there can be a positive change through studying English.

I recently learned that I could study with English speakers willing to teach me 1:1. I fear South Koreans because they are so quick to judge North Korean refugees. I heard from a friend studying with your program that the foreigners don’t judge us, they just want to help. I hope if I can learn English that people can forget about my North Korean accent and just consider me to be a human being.

Casey Lartigue Jr., co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center, compiled these statements from interviews with refugees.